Celebrity Children

Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat just lost the NBA Championships. But he’s okay with it. Why? Because his daughter, Trinity, got to see him play in the Finals.

Now Trinity is two-years-old. But imagine instead that she was twelve-years-old. How hard would it be to watch your father– or any parent– lose a major game or tournament, in person?

This past weekend Bernard Lagat, an Olympic runner, competed in the 2011 Adidas Grand Prix in New York City. Lagat ran the 5000m and came in second. His five-and-a-half-year-old son, Miika was in the stands to watch. How do I know? Because in NBC’s coverage they actually miked little Miika and recorded his reaction to the race, showing the visual during the race replays. Miika was screaming for his dad to win, and seemed upset when he came in second. He sat next to his mom during the race, and obviously his parents had to okay their son being miked and recorded. While Miika is adorable and full of personality, was this really the best decision? Clearly a lot of Miika’s identity is wrapped up in being the son of a successful runner. What about his own identity?

It’s not just the children of athletes who often have a spotlight on themselves based on their parents performances. This can apply to children of performers and politicians, along with notorious figures. For example, Karen Gravano, the daughter of Sammy the Bull, is in the news as part of the VH1 show Mob Wives. Gravano is currently penning a memoir about growing up the daughter of a mobster.  And then there’s Chaz Bono, also much in the news, who has used the celebrity of his parents as a platform to promote transgender awareness (never mind that as a young girl Chasity was featured on her parents’ television show in sequins and make-up, which made his personal struggles more public and in some ways more difficult).

Perhaps most interesting to me are the children of politicians.  Politicians regularly use their families, and their children, to promote a particular image to the public.  They also use their children to drive home particular issues. For example, the Obamas (especially Michelle) talk about childhood obesity in terms of their own children’s “rising BMIs.” These same children can become caught in the crossfire when things go awry. When the Arnold and Maria scandal broke, their teenage son’s tweets were reported by the media. And then, of course, there are the Palin children. The Palin brood have been used in and across multiple reality television shows (for some of my thoughts on kids and reality TV in general you can read my USA Today op-ed here). When Sarah Palin took off on a summer tour recently her youngest daughter, Piper, was used in the video produced by SarahPAC.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Putin shows that there is another path– although in this country we’d likely prefer something less extreme than essentially hiding family members.  But this raises larger questions: should access to children of celebrities be limited in particular ways? Is the media wrong to focus attention on some of them (like Lagat’s son being miked and recorded)? Or is this solely a family/parental decision that we should leave up to the parent’s discretion?

It’s true that children of celebrities get various benefits from having celebrity parents, like access to other celebrities and real material rewards.  It is also easier for them to have a platform, if they so chose, as Chaz Bono shows. But, in general, they are thrust into the spotlight against their will and based on the skills and accomplishments of their parents, and not their own. In some ways, then, are these parents no better than Richard Heene, Balloon Boy’s father?

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